On the question of Trust


There is in fact no solution, just a whole bunch of human beings struggling to figure it out. If we want to function as healthy individuals, some measure of trust in others needs to exist, but if we don't like to be taken advantage of, or even putting ourselves in grave risk, we need to withhold that trust. So how do we know when to do what?


I don't have a definite answer (I doubt anybody does), but I can share my take on it. And for that I can rely on the highest form of wisdom: popular expressions. Any person is innocent until proven guilty and every new person we meet is a potential friend. This would argue in favor of initially trusting people we first meet so as not to shut ourselves out of the world and the social environment in which we live.


It is also said, however, “fool me once – shame on you; fool me twice – shame on me”. This popular saying argues about the fragility of trust. When somebody breaches our trust...that person will no longer receive automatically that same trust. When people damage or even destroy our trust in them, the onus is on them to regain that trust, to rebuild it.


This ambiguity about what trust means plays itself at every level of life, be it on international relations, or all the way down to the personal contacts we make every day.


Let us take the highest level first...International relations. Israel is being asked to trust the Palestinian Authority not to smuggle weapons across the Jordan river and to prevent terrorist attacks on Israel civilians. Should Israel trust it?


In 1993, Israel trusted the PLO by signing the Declaration of Principles (popularly known as the Oslo Agreements) on September 13. The result was good – initially. The PLO, however, failed to live up to their obligations to stop incitement and demonization of Israel – and even used international forums to label Israel an Apartheid State and try to mobilize the progressive forces of the world against the only Democracy in the Middle East at the time, an in support of a movement with Nazi ties and autocratic, repressive style. It was clearly a breach of trust. Israel would have been justified to withhold its trust in the PLO then and there. But successive agreements gave the PLO more and more control over the lives and lands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and after every single concession by Israel, the PLO demands would grow and its leaders go on the offensive In my humble opinion, Israel is justified to demand that the PLO show good faith and live up to prior commitments. Without that bare minimum, Israel is amply justified to distrust the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinians demolished whatever trust Israel might have had on them...the onus is on them to prove they can again be trusted.


On the community level, because the contact is more intimate, the situation gets complicated. How many times we heard phrases like “You should trust us, we're a Jewish organization”?. With all due respect to all Jewish organization, I personally trust an organization when that organization lives up to its mission, its goals, and its commitments. When an organization ignores its own mission, its own rules and its own obligations I don't feel obligated to deposit my trust in it. When an organization uses lies to gain support from others...sooner or later those lies will come back to haunt them and will provoke the unraveling of community trust and maybe even the end of the organization. Community leaders are not corporate directors but community trustees. Community members and donors trust them to live up to what the organization stands for. When they don't...they lose that trust.


Things get even more complicated when we get down to the interpersonal level. Some people believe that they are automatically entitled to trust because of what they are. Like for example “Trust me, I'm the President”; “Trust me, I'm a professional”, “Trust me, I'm a Rabbi”, and so on. Paraphrasing one of the greatest activists in American history, I believe that people should be trust not because of what they are, but because of who they are. People are not defined as persons by their position or their degrees – but by their code of conduct. If somebody breached my trust in the past, should I automatically give that trust back because the person believes to be entitled to it? - Hardly.


The intensity of the relationships on the interpersonal level means that a breach of our trust will hurt us deeper, more intensely, and the consequences of that breach will be remember longer. When somebody breaches another person's trust, the onus is on him/her to restore the trust they have violated. And restoring that trust can only be achieved by proving him/herself all over again as worthy of that trust. How? Our tradition does provide a blueprint (I'm taking some liberties with the language, but I'm staying true to the meaning):


a) Acknowledge your boo boo... Openly recognize you've done wrong and that you have violated somebody else's trust.

b) Make amends....Ask forgiveness from everybody whose trust you breached and from everybody affected by your breach of trust.

c) Prove yourself again worth of trust...Change your behavior and go the extra mile to respect the trust people deposit on you and to live up to their expectations.


These are indeed high standards to live by...but again, when people deposit their trust in us they are putting themselves at risk as much as when we deposit trust in somebody (or something) we're also opening ourselves to hurt and worse. That risk taking deserves to be acknowledge by holding ourselves to high standards. We could summarize the standards required to be trusted by others in one word our ancestors held in great regard:




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